A Few Ideas to Make You Think
Here are a few ideas to ponder. Other than the criteria that
they should be able to make you think a bit they are somewhat
randomly selected and cover several different topics.
Language and Morality
If a language had just twenty words could we use those words
to define morality in such a way that we could safely live by
the resulting moral code? It seems unlikely to say the least.
Choose twenty words and try it if you doubt the difficulty. This
suggests that moral codes had to wait until language was fairly
well-developed. And if we had too few words to create a moral
code to follow, we would have to rely on our intuitive feelings
as a guide to action.
That raises an interesting question, which is: Why do people
think that with their current languages have enough necessary
words to create an infallible verbal guide to morality? What's
the magic number of words? Isn't it possible that no matter how
many words we have there will be things we cannot explain, and
maybe our logic will sometimes lead us to embrace thoughts and
actions that are (or feel) immoral?
It seems silly to think words alone can guide ethics and morality
in all circumstances. We still have the need to also feel our
way through life rather than just argue our way through it. Of
course "feeling right" doesn't have to mean doing what
you feel like doing. We are able to make the distinction between
what feels pleasurable and what feels like the right thing to
do. Doesn't this show that we have a "moral sense"?
We might feel pleasure hitting someone we're angry with, but
we do not feel or think that this is a good thing to do. There
is a "this is good" and "this is bad" kind
of recognition which does not arise from our words.
This "feel your way to the right path" approach
seems very dangerous, since we might worry about what will others
feel is right, but the opposite seems more true. All the large
scale violations of morality (death camps, institutionalized
slavery, and so on) have required that we give up that feeling
of rightness in favor of finding a rationalization for the actions,
meaning a moral justification that's logical according to our
language-based moral codes. Maybe following words is more dangerous
than we think.
Intelligence and Creativity
Some research on intelligence and creativity was done at Yonsei
University in Seoul, Korea, using the "Torrance Tests of
Creative Thinking." There was no correlation found between
intelligence and creativity. Intelligence, the researchers say,
is more a measure of convergent thinking (coming to a conclusion
based on known facts or premises), while creative thought is
more about divergent thinking (finding other possibilities and
It's a safe assumption that there is some minimum level of
intelligence required to be creatively productive, but most people
probably have enough. It also seems likely it's easier to teach
and encourage creativity than to increase raw intelligence. Are
we over-emphasizing IQ in our schools at the expense of creative
A rock is hard on the feet, but are you angry about this?
A tree is full of thorns, a berry is poisonous, water is cold,
and hail can be painful, yet we do not judge these things in
moral terms. Why do we feel it is necessary to judge other people,
rather than just deal with them as we deal with the rest of nature?
What do we gain by judging them?
As a society we may gain something in theory. Harsh judgment
may dissuade others from behaving poorly. But as an individual
what do you or I gain? If it only causes you stress and pain
is it possible that judging others and the resulting anger is
good for society but bad for you?
Math and Reality
When we apply logic to numbers we call it mathematics, and
because of the abstract nature of numbers we can rely on our
conclusions to a large degree. Eleven divided by two is five
and one-half, according to the definition of all term involved
and the application of logic. But that logic doesn't always work
that way in reality. If, for example, you can carry two bricks
from the truck to the construction site on each trip, you don't
need 5 1/2 trips for 11 bricks, but 6 - you'll just be carrying
one brick on one of the trips. That's a relatively simple example,
but what about when we try to use words like numbers in an equation?
How far from reality can we stray in our attempts to capture
it in words and logic?
What is The Purpose of the Legal System?
If we had a way to change the thinking and behavior of a violent
criminal in just days (a pill, an operation-- just use your imagination),
making him safer than the average person on the street, would
it be okay to let him go free after only a week in prison? If
not, why not? Are we more interested in the safety and security
of innocent people or in punishing people who have done wrong?
What makes punishment so valuable to us if it isn't about changing
Ego is a Tool
You need a saw to cut wood, but you are not a saw. You need
a pen to write poetry, but you are not a pen. You need hammer
to pound in nails, but you are not a hammer. Likewise, though
we need our names and ideas to be human, we are not those names
and ideas. When we forget this, we are like a man who comes to
a log to be cut and instead of setting down his hammer and picking
up a saw, he tries to pound his way through it. It doesn't work
very well, does it? Ego, and all the associated baggage that
comes with it, is a tool, and should be treated as such. Set
it aside after it has served its purpose, and find a better tool
for the next task.